Chief judge closes Saddam Hussein testimony to public, declaring he was making political speeches

Saddam Hussein testified Wednesday for the first time at his trial, calling on Iraqis to stop a bloody wave of sectarian violence and instead fight American troops, prompting the chief judge to close the courtroom, saying he was making political speeches.

Even as the judge repeatedly yelled at him to stop, Saddam read from a prepared text, insisting he was still Iraq 's president.

"Let the (Iraqi) people unite and resist the invaders and their backers. Don't fight among yourselves," he said, praising the insurgency. "In my eyes, you are the resistance to the American invasion."

Finally chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman ordered the session to continue in secret, telling journalists to leave the chamber. The video and audio broadcast of the trial was cut off.

After nearly two hours, reporters were called back into the court. Saddam was sitting alone in the defendants' pen in front of the judge. The former Iraqi leader then refused to answer questions from the chief prosecutor, demanding to see a copy of his testimony given to investigators before the trial began. The prosecution agreed to the demand and said they would question Saddam in the next session.

Abdel-Rahman then adjourned the trial until April 5.

Saddam was the last of the case's eight defendants to be called to testify. Though he has spoken frequently since the trial began in October, Wednesday's session was to be the first chance for the judge and prosecutors to directly question him on charges of killing 148 Shiites and imprisoning and torturing others during a 1982 crackdown against the Shiite town of Dujail .

Instead, Saddam dressed in a black suit read from his statement, insisting he was Iraq 's elected president and calling the trial a "comedy."

He addressed the "great Iraqi people" a phrase he often used in his speeches as president and urged them to stop the wave of Shiite-Sunni violence that has rocked the country since the bombing of a major Shiite shrine last month.

"What pains me most is what I heard recently about something that aims to harm our people," Saddam said. "My conscience tells me that the great people of Iraq have nothing to do with these acts," he said referring to the bombing of the shrine in the city of Samarra .

Abdel-Rahman interrupted saying he was not allowed to give political speeches in the court.

"I am the head of state," Saddam replied.

"You used to be a head of state. You are a defendant now," Abdel-Rahman said.

The judge repeatedly closed his microphone to prevent his words from being heard and told him to address the case against him. But Saddam ignored him, continuing to read from his text.

"What happened in the last days is bad," he said, referring to the recent violence. "You will live in darkness and rivers of blood for no reason."

"The bloodshed that they (the Americans) have caused to the Iraqi people only made them more intent and strong to evict the foreigners from their land and liberate their country," Saddam said.

At one point, Abdel-Rahman screamed at him, "Respect yourself." Saddam shouted back: "you respect yourself."

"You are being tried in a criminal case for killing innocent people, not because of your conflict with America ," Abdel-Rahman told him. "What about the innocent people who are dying in Baghdad ? I am talking to the Iraqi people," Saddam replied.

Finally, Abdel-Rahman ordered the session closed to the public. "The court has decided to turn this into a secret and closed session," he said.

The stormy session was a stark contrast to the past three hearings, when each of Saddam's seven co-defendants has appeared, one by one, and was questioned by Abdel-Rahman and the chief prosecutor.

Saddam and the seven former members of his regime face possible execution by hanging if they are convicted in connection to the crackdown launched in Dujail following a July 8, 1982 shooting attack on Saddam's motorcade in the town.

Last month, Saddam stood up in court and boldly acknowledged that he ordered the 148 Shiites put on trial before his Revolutionary Court , which eventually sentenced them all to death. But Saddam insisted it was his right to do so since they were suspected in the attempt to kill him.

Before Saddam's testimony, his half-brother Barzan Ibrahim _ who headed the feared Mukhabarat intelligence agency at the time of the Dujail attack _ was questioned for more than three hours by the chief judge and prosecutor, who presented him with half a dozen Mukharbat documents and memos about the crackdown.

One after another, Ibrahim insisted that the documents were fake and that his signatures on them were forged. "It's not true. It's forged. We all know that forgery happens," he said.

In previous sessions, Dujail residents have testified that Ibrahim personally participating in torturing them during their imprisonment at the Baghdad headquarters of the Mukhabarat intelligence agency, which Ibrahim headed. One woman claimed Ibrahim kicked her in the chest whileshe was hung upside down and naked by her interrogators.

But Ibrahim insisted the Mukhabarat agency was not involved in the investigation into the attack on Saddam and denied any personal role in the crackdown.

"I didn't order any detentions. I didn't interrogate anyone," he said, adding that he resigned from the Mukhabarat in August 1983. "There is not a single document showing that I was involved in the investigation."

Chief prosecutor Jaafar al-Moussawi showed the court a series of Mukhabarat documents on the Dujail case from 1982 and 1983, some of which bore signatures he said were Ibrahim's. One of them was a memo from Ibrahim's office asking Saddam for rewards for six Mukhabarat officers involved in the Dujail crackdown.

"This is not my signature. My signature is easy to forge, and this is forged," Ibrahim said.

He said the same of another document that listed Dujail families whose farmlands were razed in retaliation for the shooting. Another document, signed by an assistant to Ibrahim, talked of hundreds of Dujail detainees being held by the Mukhabarat at its headquarters and at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. Ibrahim said that memo as well was false.

At the end of Wednesday's session, Abdel-Rahman ordered forensic tests on the signatures to determine their veracity.

Ibrahim insisted that the General Security agency, not the Mukhabarat, carried out the Dujail crackdown. He said his sole role came on the day of the shooting, when he went to the village and ordered security officials to release Dujail residents who had been arrested.

The defense has argued that Saddam's government acted within its rights to respond after the assassination attempt on the former Iraqi leader. The prosecutor has sought to show that the crackdown went well beyond the authors of the attack to punish Dujail's civilian population, saying entire families were arrested and tortured and that the 148 who were killed were sentenced to death without a proper trial, reports the AP.


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